Fair Trade USA’s Expansion: Good or Bad?

Fair Trade USA is in the middle of a big controversy right now. Essentially, the organization is redefining what “fair trade” means, so they can expand and include larger corporations and/or growing estates.

The current controversy centers on coffee growers, but it has the potential to impact every fair trade producer, from tea, chocolate, and even artisans like our own who make bags, clothing, or jewelry.

Here’s the skinny. Right now, the definition of “fair trade coffee” requires buyers who want this label to buy from grower-owned cooperatives. But under the new definition, the message of which is “fair trade for all,” buyers could purchase fair trade coffee from larger companies and growing plantations who qualify.

Like all controversies, there is a good and bad side to this.

The Good

Allowing larger organizations into the fair trade field means companies like Starbucks and Green Mountain Coffee will have an easier time sourcing their fair trade coffee. Right now, they’re buying from lots of small growers, which can make supply difficult and unpredictable. If they can also buy from larger estates, they can, potentially, sell a lot more fair trade coffee. This will help everyone, in addition to growing awareness.

The Bad

The fair trade industry, especially fair trade coffee, has been built on the hearts and souls of small growers, producers, and artisans. Allowing big growers could endanger these small producers, possibly even driving them out of business.

Additionally, a move like this will further confuse consumers, many of whom are already flummoxed by the different labels and standards the fair trade industry is still grappling this.

Last, money plays a big part in this too. In a telling line from this article on Green Biz,

Fair Trade USA also collects fees from the roasters and retailers that use its logo. Critics say that creates an incentive for the NGO to loosen standards and expand the market to bring in more revenue for itself.

I fully understand that in order to grow and continue their awareness campaigns, Fair Trade USA needs to earn money. Ideally, they need to earn more than they’re spending. Right now, I don’t think that’s happening. However, we’ve seen a million times before how easily money, or the quest of money I should say, can corrupt even the best of intentions if people are not careful. And I can’t help but wonder how much influence money has over this decision.

Last Word…

Right now, this battle is focused on coffee because it’s America’s biggest import. But this affects everyone involved in fair trade, including us here at Earth Divas! I know I’ll be watching closely to see how it plays out.

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